Imagine the pressure each of the players who sported a Turlock High girls soccer uniform felt on a damp Turlock Sports Complex field on Wednesday afternoon, as the Bulldogs faced their most dangerous threat of the season in Merced High, and with what many considered the Central California Conference title on the line.
The Bears were in position for a shocker, with one of their best scorers readying for a penalty kick.
Beyond that, the Bulldogs were without a major piece of their dynasty, as Dennis Bishop — credited as the architect of the successful soccer program — resigned just days before. But a little luck and a dominant defensive performance resulted in Turlock settling for a 1-1 tie against the Bears, who entered the afternoon thinking it was their championship game.
For the Bulldogs, the dynasty is still intact.
“I’m excited that we tied because we’re in the lead,” said Turlock defender Cassidy Costa, “but (I) wish we could’ve won. We should have won that.”
The Bulldogs were in one of their most risky situations all season after Costa collided with Merced’s Abigail Nuno inside the box, resulting in a penalty kick for the Bears with the game tied 1-1 early in the second half. Stepping up for the shot was Amanda Campos, a capable kicker.
Turlock then traded goalkeepers, as interim coach Doug Sperry inserted forward Maecie Ireland — who was last season’s starter before switching positions — for Andrea Rosas, this year's starter. However, the change didn’t matter much after Nuno’s attempt bounced off the right side of the crossbar.
Quite a save.
The squads went back and forth after that, with Rosas a big part of Turlock's defensive effort, but a tie was inevitable. That meant the Bulldogs remained unbeaten at 7-0-2 in the CCC and 14-0-2 overall, enough to be in position for their fifth consecutive league title with three games left against winless Buhach Colony, winless Los Banos and Pitman, the season finale and perhaps their toughest opponent left on the schedule.
Merced’s 6-0-3 record in the CCC put the Bears a half-game back in the standings and in second. The positions could change, depending how on the Bulldogs do before the postseason.
“I felt like we should have gotten a win,” said Sperry, reiterating what one of his players said earlier, “but all things considered, getting out of here with a tie, with the wet conditions and with everything going on, we can’t feel too bad.”
He was alluding to Bishop’s sudden resignation on April 16, which surprised everyone on the roster, as well as athletic director Anthony Belew, who was first notified of Bishop’s serious health problem, one that kept him in a sling for much of the season, that fateful day.
The stunned Turlock players knew they had to carry on, though.
And they were tested early on in Wednesday’s game, as Merced’s Tina Benson sailed a sweet shot from the left side of the field and above the reach of Rosas (six saves). It was 1-0 just 10 minutes in.
It was hard to forget that these squads also produced a tie in an earlier match, and both times Merced held a 1-0 edge.
The Bulldogs didn’t panic, however. They kept cool and in 38th minute, forward Sara Latham went charging. After getting a pass from Kayla Avila, Latham beat Merced’s relentless goalkeeper, Stephanie Isenberg, but the ball went loose. Latham continued to charge, only to meet up with Merced defender Luz Perez right in front of the goal. It appeared that both players struck the ball at the same time, and it ricocheted into a goalkeeper-less net.
No one doubted that the Bulldogs could regain balance. Just ask Costa — who, like everyone in a Turlock uniform on a sideline sans longtime coach in Bishop — did not agree with the penalty kick.
“We were dominating the first half, but our issue is our second-half game, when we usually let down when we’re supposed to be dominant,” the Turlock defender said. “Next time we go out, we need to work on that.”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141.